Hillston Citrus imports some export expertise
A quarter of a century in the citrus industry – first in South Africa, and now Australia – has squeezed agronomist Rolf Swart into a new role, tackling the challenges of exports for Hillston Citrus Operations, at Griffith in NSW.
And when you’ve got 1600ha of orchards, the export market is almost a given for Hillston.
As the man managing its export business, Mr Swart says he is excited about injecting South African insights and ideas to the Australian citrus industry, particularly in the realm of export.
While his region is known for juicing, the business was firmly focused on export and the need to meet and exceed international standards.
“The ballgame changes completely once you go into export,” Mr Swart says.
“You're dealing with countries with phytosanitary issues in some of the pests and diseases we've got here,” he adds.
“They do not want our fruit fly specifically; they don't want any other diseases or any other pests. One fruit fly in a consignment, overseas, can cause that whole consignment to be not just downgraded, but need to be destroyed.
“What we tried to do here is use integrated pest management, where we use both chemicals and natural products to keep our pest and disease complex up to international export standards."
Mr Swart says as the business agronomist, his role was to pick the most pertinent products to get the job done.
“We have introduced products here that are not commonly used in this region, on the back of experience gained in South Africa.”
He says in South Africa they had a certain protocol in place when it came to fruit fly control.
“We were monitoring with pheromone traps, catching male flies, and above a certain threshold we would intervene. We had fixed protocols there because we were an export market exclusively,” Mr Swart explains.
“When I came to Australia, I started trapping to see what we were going to get, and I was absolutely horrified by the number of Queensland fruit fly we were catching.”
He says many farms were spraying in springtime and summertime with a belief Queensland fruit fly was only an issue in the summertime.
“We've subsequently seen, with our own trapping, that they are there the entire year. Even in the cold weather, we've caught over 100 in some of the traps we haven't treated for fruit fly.”
In South Africa, a product called GF 120 had been used successfully for more than a decade to control fruit fly and Mr Swart went looking for it in Australia.
“I found out, on the Corteva website, that there's a product called Naturalure and that is the equivalent of GF 120, in South Africa,” he says.
“We had a contractor come in to do weekly bait sprays of Naturalure, and within a month we had trap counts from more than 200 per trap, coming down to almost nothing.
“Since then, we have implemented that same South African precautionary strategy on all our farms where we start baiting, regardless of trap counts, every bearing orchard, six weeks before harvest.
“Which means we’ll do a weekly bait to ensure we've got clean fruit going into the pack houses. If our traps show we've got earlier issues, we will start the baiting even sooner."
Naturalure fruit fly bait concentrate is applied through a side-by-side vehicle with a 400-litre tank on the back. Two single nozzles spray at very low-pressure using coarse droplets to coat the citrus leaf.
“Our dilution rate works out to about one litre of Naturalure per nine litres of water and, in our tank of 400 litres, we cover 45 hectares,” Mr Swart added.
“We could go up to 20km/h hour and it takes about 80 minutes for us to do 45ha. It's really not a time-consuming exercise.
“It's a product that fits into our philosophy perfectly and we are pretty confident it might catch on in the region, as it seems like export citrus is once again becoming a more lucrative option for farmers.
“The added benefit of using Naturalure is it is organically certified. With our philosophy of exporting and the brand we're building it fits in perfectly with our plan.”
“We try to introduce things that we know fit into an IPM program very well. Naturalure fits in beautifully with IPM.”